Tidal, the subscription music service owned by Jay-Z and other artists, has been accused of faking the streaming numbers for two of its highest profile exclusive releases.
Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo,” which was the first album to go platinum primarily from streaming, and Beyoncé’s platinum record “Lemonade” were released exclusively on Tidal for periods in 2016. By placing their albums on the fledgling platform, which was relaunched in 2015, both artists risked losing big paychecks.
West’s album was said to have been streamed 250 million times in the first 10 days on the service. And Beyoncé’s record was reportedly played 306 million times in 15 days. While it’s not hard to believe Bey and Yeezy could hit those numbers, they rang false to some, as Tidal said it had 3 million members then.
However, according to an in-depth investigation by Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), Tidal has reportedly manipulated those streaming numbers, to potentially make the company appear more profitable or increase royalty payments to the artists at the expense of others on the service. This is something Tidal vigorously denies and says the DN report is part of a “smear campaign.”
The DN’s report investigated streaming numbers since 2017, when it reportedly obtained a hard drive of internal Tidal data with more than 1.5 billion of rows of user play logs. Those logs were from two periods—from late January to early March, and mid April to early May—totaling 65 days in 2016. Its reporters tracked down subscribers from the logs, and presented them with their apparent listening history, which the users said didn’t add up.
The publication also worked with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s cyber and information security department to see whether the data on the hard drive had been manipulated.
“We have through advanced statistical analysis determined that there has in fact been a manipulation of the data at particular times. The manipulation appears targeted towards a very specific set of track IDs, related to two distinct albums,” found the researchers (pdf) at NTNU’s Center for Cyber and Information Security. “The manipulation likely originates from within the streaming service itself.”
The research said it was likely that the data was manipulated in several ways, including copying and inserting playbacks of tracks, and adjusted the timestamps on the duplicate plays.
A lawyer for Tidal reportedly told DN that the findings were false, and that DN lied about the contents of the data to the researchers.
“This is a smear campaign from a publication that once referred to our employee as an ‘Israeli Intelligence officer’ and our owner as a ‘crack dealer,'” said Tidal, in a statement shared with Quartz. “We expect nothing less from them than this ridiculous story, lies and falsehoods. The information was stolen and manipulated and we will fight these claims vigorously.”